My first chance to see Skinny Puppy came a few years earlier on the Too Dark Park tour, but they were playing in Tampa literally the week that I moved to Florida. While I had made some quick friends, I hadn't yet figured out who I could tag along with to a Skinny Puppy show and I wasn't really all that familiar with the band anyway. I had some Skinny Puppy stuff on a cassette, I think, but I actually had some unexplainable aversion to them for a time, probably related to the Too Dark Park artwork which I thought just looked camp and a little too close to bad metal artwork for my tastes. As a result, I had to watch people come to school and go to clubs for the next two years with those creature-centered SP shirts while I sat around waiting for them to tour again.
By 1992, I was a rabid Skinny Puppy fan and I was constantly kicking myself for not taking the chance to see them before. I wasn't as big a fan of Last Rites as I was of Too Dark Park but there was still about half of the album that I really liked and by this point, I'd already been in a band that tried to do its own low-budget SP-inspired stage show, so I was ready for this one.
Godflesh was supposed to open the show which was huge for me because I was anxious to see them pull off the 15-20 minute grinding dirges that they were known for at the time, but something happened with visas and we got stuck with Thought Industry or some other such band that was basically awful.
As things were getting going, I recognized a friend of mine in the audience and he was looking a little isolated. Mike Bagley was one of the most influential players in Tampa's indie music scene around this time and in really the best way possible. He hosted a show on the local cable access channel which was the only place to see things like the unedited Warlock video or old Meat Beat Manifesto videos or even the occassional Paris or Public Enemy clip. Mike was one of the nicest and most genuine guys I met during my time around that scene and he was at almost every show worth going to for most of the years I spent growing up in Florida. I was lucky enough to meet him through Dave and the whole GOG association and while we didn't hang out, I was always glad to see him.
But the Skinny Puppy show was a little weird because bands like that tended to bring out a large nazi skinhead contingent in those days and Mike was one of the very, very few black folks at those kinds of shows. We all liked to think that we never saw skin color in people or that we were a perfectly integrated subculture that didn't discriminate but the truth was that the industrial club scene was 99% a white affair and when the rednecks and white power skinheads got involved, it could get ugly for that other 1%.
So, as I saw Mike standing alone with a gaggle of nazi dipshits glancing his way, I decided to walk over and chat him up. Maybe I was a little naive to think that anything would happen to him, but something about the testosterone and unchecked aggression at a show like that when people bring their own violent ideologies to play made me just a little nervous. I'd heard stories about Mike and my other friend Lee's run-ins with racist assholes at shows before and I felt like if anything, I should at least be a part of the anti-skinhead posse for a little while.
So we talked for a while about how the skinheads had a way of ruining perfectly good events just by trying to intimidate everyone. They threw up the nazi salute during songs, tried to bloody people up in the pit, and were about as unfriendly to girls as they were to anyone of color. I've not had to encounter much of that sort of thing since I left Florida, and I don't know if that's just because there were more of those morons there or it's because over time, they've just left the kind of scenes I might be around. Whenever I see skinheads at a show anywhere, I remember Mike at that Skinny Puppy show and I think of the incredible balls it must have taken him to walk into so many shows like that were there were angry, violent people who hated him on sight. We gain empathy with others in whatever ways we can. I'm not likely to ever feel the way he must have felt at those shows, but having spent that time with him, I certainly got a much better appreciation of how alive that racial tension is even now.